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Former winner Franchitti glad to be back in Surfers
Dario Franchitti
Former Nikon Indy 300 winner Dario Franchitti believes the fact that next week’s Gold Coast event will not be a championship round will not affect the quality of the race action – and may even add to the spectacle for race fans.

Franchitti was yesterday announced as one of 24 starters for this year’s 18th annual event which will host one of the greatest fields of open-wheel talent ever assembled for the Surfers Paradise street fight.

Franchitti was named as the second driver for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team last month and will be a team-mate for reigning IndyCar Series and Indy 500 champion, Brisbane-born Kiwi Scott Dixon.

Franchitti won the Gold Coast race in 1999 and will make his open-wheel return after a season with Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation.

This year’s field will include three former Gold Coast race winners, ten 2008 IndyCar Series event winners, five former Indy 500 winners and 12 drivers who have actually raced at Surfers Paradise previously – of those, eight have led the race.

“I know this year’s race is not for championship points, but that will not make one inch of difference when it comes to race time,” said Franchitti.

“The Nikon Indy 300 is one race every serious Indy car driver wants to compete in and win.

“I would give anything to win it twice and I am thankful I will get that opportunity next week, but I know there are going to be another 23 drivers just as keen to get their hands on that big gold cup as me – championship points or not.

“The fact that there are three Australian born drivers, including my team mate Scott Dixon, who have a good chance of winning is a big bonus for the Australian and Kiwi fans.

“Without championship points, they might even get a bigger show than they were expecting.”

Franchitti has been a long-time fan of the Australian race and has actually visited the event when he was not even competing.

“It is quite ironic that I will be making my return to open-wheel racing with Target Chip Ganassi Racing at one of my favorite events anywhere in the world on the streets of Surfers Paradise,” said Franchitti.

“Fans and fellow drivers continually ask me about the Surfers Paradise race and it really is hard to put how great the event is into words. You have to experience it to understand the amount of work that goes into making it one of the world’s great sporting festivals.”

The Scotsman will have the advantage of several starts on the Gold Coast track when he was a part of the Champ Car World Series which merged with the IndyCar Series at the beginning of this season.

“The track is really one of compromise with long fast straights and first or second gear corners – and that’s before you start talking about those tough chicanes,” said Franchitti.

“You really have to be so precise because Surfers is one track that can reach out and bite you if you make one simple mistake.”

· A total of 24 drivers will line-up in next week’s race in one of the most spectacular fields ever assembled.

· The field will include three former Gold Coast race winners – Dario Franchitti, Bruno Junqueira and Ryan Hunter-Reay

· Half of the 24 have previously raced on the Gold Coast with Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson combining with Franchitti, Junqueira and Hunter-Reay having made 49 starts between them.

· Of those 12 previous starters, eight have led laps (Franchitti 62, Junqueira 55, Power 23, Hunter-Reay 15, Servia 6, Wilson 4, Dixon 3 and Tagliani 1)

· The field includes 10 2008 IndyCar Series race winners Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick, Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, Dan Wheldon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson

· The field also includes five former Indy 500 winners including Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice.

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